La controverse du rapport dette/croissance

STANFORD – La récente controverse autour d’erreurs repérées dans l’article produit en 2010 par les économistes Carmen Reinhart et Kenneth Rogoff illustre tristement la pression que fait subir l’implacable exigence du flux perpétuel de l’information et l’atmosphère toxique qui règne autour de la politique budgétaire aux Etats-Unis, en Europe et au Japon. Dans leur article intitulé “Growth in a Time of Debt,” Reinhart et Rogoff estimaient que des rapports de dette publique/PIB supérieurs à 90% entrainaient une chute importante de la croissance. Mais les données chiffrées comportaient des erreurs de codage découvertes par un étudiant de l’Université du Massachusetts. Après correction, l’effet est substantiellement inférieur, mais néanmoins conséquent économiquement parlant.

L’article de Reinhart et Rogoff n’est qu’un élément parmi une volumineuse littérature qui démontre que des niveaux d’endettement élevés sont économiquement risqués. Une question plus fondamentale est la causalité : l’état de l’économie affecte certainement la position budgétaire, tout comme la politique fiscale, les dépenses, les déficits, et les dettes sont susceptibles d’affecter la croissance économique.

Les erreurs dans le domaine de la recherche économique ne sont pas rares, mais elles sont généralement repérées relativement rapidement, comme cela m’est déjà arrivé dans un texte en phase de prépublication. Parfois, les erreurs ne sont découvertes que plus tard, à la phase du document de travail, comme pour Reinhart et Rogoff, ou après publication, comme dans le cas du prix Nobel d’économie Ken Arrow, qui a du corriger son erreur dans l’application de son fameux théorème d’impossibilité.

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